House members are formally requesting Gov. Benigno R. Fitial to ask for the “immediate and permanent” resignation of Attorney General Edward T. Buckingham, whom they described as a “criminal defendant who failed to appear in court despite being duly served with a penal summons” and who has “lost the confidence” of the House and the CNMI people.
Rep. Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan), chair of the House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee, pre-filed yesterday House Resolution 17-106 to ask the governor to call for Buckingham's resignation.
The resolution, as of yesterday afternoon, has eight co-sponsors crossing party lines.
House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan), House minority leader Joseph Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan), Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan), Rep. Joseph Palacios (R-Saipan), Rep. Tony Sablan (R-Saipan), Rep. Janet Maratita (Ind-Saipan), Rep. Trenton Conner (R-Tinian), and Rep. Ray Yumul (R-Saipan) have so far co-sponsored the resolution, to be introduced in the next session.
The administration, however, said yesterday it has yet to receive or see a copy of the resolution.
The House JGO chairman said “excuses can be made about the timing of the charges, and accusations can be made about political agendas, but a penal summons is a binding legal document.”
“There are no exceptions for anyone and there was apparently no justification for Mr. Buckingham to ignore it,” Demapan said.
Demapan said as JGO Committee chair and from what he has seen and heard, he can only come to one conclusion: “Whether or not he sets foot back on the Commonwealth, he is not respected by reasonable and fair individuals and has tainted the reputation of the Office of the Attorney General because from the viewpoint of the public, it appears that he has lost respect for the law and the courts.”
“If Mr. Buckingham has lost the confidence of the people, then regardless of the outcome of the criminal case, he is no longer fit to serve the people as their chief law enforcement officer,” Demapan added.
Yumul, also a JGO Committee member, said the governor asked Cabinet members to resign “for much lesser reason or for no reason at all.”
“Now that the CNMI attorney general has committed a crime by fleeing the Commonwealth after being served a penal summons, the governor would have more reason to ask for his resignation,” Yumul told Saipan Tribune.
He said Buckingham doesn't deserve to be called CNMI attorney general of the CNMI since the morning he left, despite a penal summons to appear in court.
“He's still drawing his salary and holding the title of attorney general,” Yumul added.
Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan) said last night he's not signing off on the resolution.
Torres earlier said the Legislature should “back off” and let the matter be handled by the courts.
Rep. Ray Tebuteb (R-Saipan) said he has yet to fully review a copy of Demapan's resolution, but said the resolution “looks like a slap on the wrist” compared to a bench warrant for Buckingham's arrest.
Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (R-Saipan) also has yet to see a copy of the resolution, but he has been vocal in accusing the governor of “knowing everything about the incident.”
He was referring to the events surrounding Buckingham's alleged evasion-with the help of police and ports police officers-of a penal summons service on Friday to Saturday.
Buckingham left the CNMI on Saturday morning, minutes after an FBI agent served him a penal summons to appear in court two days later in connection with criminal charges filed against him by the Office of the Public Auditor.
The criminal charges that OPA filed included the attorney general's alleged hosting of a political candidate's party at the governor's house in August 2010 and approval of an almost $400,000 sole-source contract award to a then newly-resigned Cabinet member.
Press secretary Angel Demapan, when asked for comment, said the administration has not received or seen this resolution.
Buckingham was escorted by armed Department of Public Safety and Commonwealth Ports Authority officers, apparently shielding the AG from being served a penal summons.
The House JGO chairman pre-filed the 10-page resolution two days after Senate President Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Rota) asked the governor to suspend Buckingham without pay for the duration of the criminal charges filed against him.
The Senate president also asked the governor to officially investigate the actions of DPS and CPA officers for alleged misuse of government time, vehicles, and other resources to prevent the serving of summons to the AG.
The officers involved included DPS deputy commissioner Ambrosio Ogumoro, the governor's personal security/driver Police Capt. Jermaine W. Nekaifes, and CPA Ports Police Chief Jordan Kosam.
Manglona, when asked for comment on the pre-filed House resolution, said he personally supports having the AG terminated but he said there could be more that the Legislature can do to prevent a similar incident from happening again.
He was referring to prevention of obstruction of justice, wherein one government agency doing its job is being prevented by another agency to do its job.”
Manglona said whether or not the resolution is jointly filed by the House or Senate, it would still reflect the wishes of most members. He believes such resolution will be supported by a majority of the members of the Senate.
The Senate president also asked the Senate Committee on Executive Appointments and Government Investigations chaired by Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian) to conduct an independent investigation into what transpired on Friday and Saturday leading to Buckingham's departure from the CNMI and the alleged abuse of power and misuse of public resources.
'Harm to CNMI'
HR 17-106 says although Buckingham as a defendant is presumed innocent in the court of law, “he has clearly, through his actions and omissions, lost the confidence of the House of Representatives and the People of the CNMI.”
It also says Buckingham “must be removed from his position as the highest law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth before any more harm may come to the already tainted reputation and integrity of the Office of the Attorney General.”
The resolution enumerates the criminal charges that OPA filed against Buckingham.
These include alleged use of public supplies, services, time, and personnel for campaign activities in connection with a campaign activity held at the governor's house.
The resolution also says Buckingham “refused to provide any documents and/or information to. (OPA) when requested to do so or otherwise cooperate with the same, pursuant to an investigation of potential violations of the Government Ethics Code Act of 1992.”
HR 17-106 also includes OPA's added charges against Buckingham, referring to allegations that the AG, between Aug. 3 and Aug. 4, “knowingly and willfully obstructed, resisted, and/or opposed persons duly authorized to serve process issued by the Superior Court of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, in serving and/or attempting to serve said process, in violation of 6 CMC 3303.”
The resolution also says the defendant Buckingham sought, suggested and/or accepted an armed escort consisting of members of DPS and CPA operating public-owned vehicles and being paid with public funds.
HR 17-106 says that escort has the “express purpose of taking defendant from his usual place of abode to the Saipan International Airport, through local and federal security checkpoints and ensuring that he boarded his flights away from the Commonwealth being served a copy of the aforementioned penal summons.”
Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman issued a bench warrant for Buckingham's arrest for not appearing in court despite penal summons served on him.
Wiseman imposed a $50,000 cash bail for Buckingham. He determined that the AG flagrantly disregarded the court's lawful penal summons.